By Arnab Banerjee
Web Series: The Trial: Pyaar, Kaanoon, Dhokha. Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Running Time: Eight episodes (39-46 minutes per episode).
Director: Suparn Verma Cast: Kajol, Jisshu Sengupta, Kubbra Sait, Sheeba Chaddha, Alyy Khan and Gaurav Pandey.
Producers: Ajay Devgn, Deepak Dhar, Rajesh Chadha and Parag Desai.
Cinematography: Manoj Soni
The purpose of a trial is to ensure that the defendant gets a fair assessment of all evidence against him or her, and so, it is a structured process wherein the facts of a case are presented to a jury, which decides if the defendant is guilty or not. If the ruling in the case is found to be not maintainable, then it can be challenged in a higher court.
The only difference is that unlike in the US, India does not have a trial-by-jury system!
The process of trial as enumerated in our Constitution is that “trial is the right of a person”, or that the trial of a court should be a “fair trial”. And that could be a huge challenge if a story around the American courts is adapted to suit the Indian milieu and its legal system.
Understandably then, the eight-episode Disney+ Hotstar series, ‘The Trial: Pyaar, Kaanoon, Dhokha’, adapted from the multi-season CBS show ‘The Good Wife’, has been tweaked — at times, a bit liberally — to cater to Indian audiences, and has amended the original creative writing with some of the technical legal terms and laws altered.
By doing so, it does fit into the mindset with which court cases are filed, viewed and judged under the Indian Penal Code.
And while you watch an altered version of Robert and Michelle King’s ‘The Good Wife;, the American legal and political drama television series that aired on CBS between 2009 and 2016, gear yourself for a trial that had a lot of potential to be an edge-of-the-seat drama series, but ends up as less absorbing.
In many ways, complicated court cases involving murders and defamation getting solved fast — or getting solved at all — are never a breeze in this part of the world, and take ages.
But the final judgment in this case is rather illusory. That’s quite unfortunate, for the innovative premise in the American series is a stupendous idea capable of unputdownable variety.
The storyline isn’t too complicated, but the treatment could be. For, it is about a housewife who is forced to join back the legal profession after her husband is accused of corruption and is also involved in a sex scandal.
The development of the plot has more of storytelling from the woman’s point of view. In the end, the show is all about her, and how she steers clear of hindrances that would obviously stall the proceedings.
It is also about all the hardships she faces in her journey seeking justice.
The female protagonist is stay-at-home Noyonika Sengupta (Kajol), a law school grad who gave up her career a decade ago for the sake of her husband and children.
She is forced to resume work as defence counsel when her husband, an additional judge Rajiv (Jisshu Sengupta), is put behind bars on charges of bribery and abuse of his prestigious position.
A good wife and mother, Noyonika must save her family and her husband’s reputation, and decides to join the law firm of her former love interest Vishal (Aly Khan). Her life is riddled with troubles and there are rivals who are out to add discontent in her life. When she seeks support from another lawyer she had known, Malini (Sheeba Chaddha), the vibes she gets are negative.
There is an intern, Dheeraj (Gaurav Pandey), who resents her rise and attributes her success to her being close to their boss Vishal. Allies include Sana (Kubbra Sait), whose selfless support and running around, help her in preparing the intricacies of the case smoothly.
There is enough meat for the series to pique and sustain your curiosity with legal tangles taking centrestage.
But the writers, Hussain Dalal, Abbas Dalal and Siddharth Kumar, put aside the ins and outs and other particulars of complex cases, and focus on the three principal female characters: Noyonika, Sana and Malini, as Noyonika tries to balance work and home, struggling to piece together the broken pieces of her life and all along protecting her children and defending her spouse.
Despite its inherent drawbacks, ‘The Trial’ stands a fair chance of appealing to a large part of streaming platform addicts who will find a novel approach to a narrative that is mostly realistic in form.
Director Suparn S. Varma relies heavily on actors who deliver so what if the writing is not first rate and fails to look deeper into the psyche of respected citizens — men and women — whose lives could face a serious conflict unexpectedly, and throws them off the kilter.
In trying to have the wife’s story as the focal point, the imperfections and shortcomings of the human mind are not explored. That results in a lot of loose ends that are not even addressed.
I have always had an issue with the background score both in films and web series. Why do filmmakers want us to react to the forewarning that some musical chords play out before an important scene?
For both somber and cheery moments, there is either a thud sound or a melancholic strain gearing us up for the impending doom or euphoria, as the case may be. Taking our audiences to be naive and uninitiated, they want us to go by their auditory signs often thrown in for good measure.
Kajol, as the protagonist Noyonika, has a tough act to emulate: Alicia Florrick playing her role in the original is a powerful combination of cold fury, bafflement and persistence.
She does have her moments especially in the latter episodes where she holds her own and looks more controlled. Alas, there are far too many lines given to her — and other actors too — to spoon feed viewers whom the writers believe are incapable of comprehension. Perhaps, producers Banijay Asia and Ajay Devgn’s FFilms wanted to play it safe by not adding extra layers to a knotty tale.
As for other actors, Sheeba Chadha and Kubra Sait, as also Alyy Khan, are impressive.
We have had quite a few web series related to crime-law-justice in the recent past. And though most of the cases are dealt with in a typical filmi fashion, the good news is that a number of brushed-under-the-carpet issues are being discussed — issues that lay bare a corrupt legal system and provide us with engaging fare. Well, almost!